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Panda Power Constructing Large Combined-Cycle Powerplants

By April 14, 2014In The News

Gemma CEO Bill Griffin is interviewed in this article appearing in the 4/14/2014 issue of  ENR: Engineering News Record.


By Housley Carr

Panda Power Funds, capitalizing on the need for highly efficient generating capacity in two key electricity markets, is building and planning more new natural-gas-fired combined-cycle units than anyone else in the U.S. right now. Working with some of the nation’s top engineering-procurement-construction contractors in the energy arena, Panda, a Dallas-based private equity firm and independent power developer, is building three 758-MW plants to serve the Electric Reliability Council of Texas region and undertaking four projects, totaling 3,267 MW, in the PJM Interconnection region—two of them already under construction in Pennsylvania and one each in Maryland and Virginia in advanced stages of planning. 

A 5,500-MW-plus building program is ambitious, particularly within the short time frame Panda is working within: All seven of the combined-cycle plants are scheduled to begin commercial operation within the next three or four years, with the first two—Temple I in Temple, Texas, and the Sherman project in Sherman, Texas—to come on line by midsummer.

“The challenge is, how do we deal with going from no projects in construction a couple of years ago to having five now and more just around the corner,” says Richard Evans, Panda’s senior vice president of engineering and construction. Panda “took a hybrid approach. First, we staffed up,” he notes, building on what Evans calls “a core team that recognizes where the risks are” in undertaking projects valued at several hundred million dollars each.

Panda also hired owner’s engineers well versed in powerplant design and construction. Sargent & Lundy is working with Panda on the three ERCOT-Texas projects, and Worley Parsons is working with the developer on the two 829-MW combined-cycle plants being built in Pennsylvania.

“One thing we are always preaching at Panda is that we are risk managers first,” says Evans. From a risk-mitigation perspective, he says two of Panda’s most important actions were hiring the right engineering-procurement-construction contractors and establishing open, trusting relationships with them. “If we do a good job in selecting the EPCs, we’re off to a very good start,” he notes.

Bechtel Power is the EPC for three combined-cycle units now under construction in ERCOT; in addition to Temple I and Panda, Bechtel is designing and building Temple II, which will come on line in summer 2015.

In Pennsylvania, a joint venture of Gemma Power Systems and Lane Construction Corp. is serving as the EPC for two 829-MW plants: the Liberty project in Towanda and the Patriot project in Williamsport. Liberty and Patriot—both near the heart of the Marcellus-shale natural-gas production region—will begin commercial operation in 2016.

Under consortium agreements with major equipment supplier Siemens at Temple and Sherman, Bechtel is “responsible for project management, engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning” of the units, according to Bechtel, and Siemens is providing “the power-island package, including the natural gas and steam turbines and waste-heat recovery boilers.”

Each of Panda’s three new units in Texas will be a Siemen’s Flex-Plant, which is designed to allow rapid “ramp up” of electric output, a feature particularly useful in ERCOT, which has more than 10,000 MW of wind-turbine capacity whose variable output must be regularly balanced by gas-fired units.

Panda acquired the Liberty and Patriot projects in Pennsylvania from another developer, Moxie Energy, and the major contracts already were in place, so the Gemma-Lane joint venture and Siemens have contractual arrangements at Liberty and Patriot aimed at mimicking a consortium.

Evans says Panda is “self-performing”—or making its own, separate design and construction arrangements for—three critical connections to all its new plants: the natural-gas pipelines, the water pipelines and the interconnections to the electric grid.

Bill Griffin, CEO at Gemma Power Systems, says Gemma, Lane Construction and Siemens have been involved in the Liberty and Patriot projects for some time and hit the ground running after the projects’ financial closings last August and December, respectively. At Liberty, most of the foundation work already has been completed, and erection of the heat-recovery steam generators is under way.

“It’s always a challenge to secure large numbers of skilled crafts people in areas that aren’t heavily populated,” says Griffin of the Towanda and Williamsport sites. He adds, however, that the shale-gas development that quickly transformed Pennsylvania’s Marcellus region “has been winding down. That’s actually helped us a bit” because the shale boom attracted skilled workers to the area, some of whom welcome the opportunity to work on the Panda projects.

The Gemma CEO says the two plants “will be just-in-time deliveries—we don’t want to be double- handling,” says Griffin. Deliveries to the sites will be made largely by rail, with some of the largest equipment being first barged up the Hudson River to the Port of Albany, where it is off-loaded onto railcars.

While still overseeing Panda’s five units currently under construction in Texas and Pennsylvania, Evans also is looking ahead to the next two projects the company plans to develop: the 859-MW Mattawoman project in Brandywine, Md., and the 750-MW Stonewall project in Leesburg, Va. Both are expected to be on line in 2017.